I WENT FOR a stroll downtown two weeks ago to have one last close up look at the D.W. Morse Building, known to most as the Cornerhouse Restaurant and the Downtown Hotel.
It will soon be demolished and replaced with a 100-room hotel.
At least 100 people recently attended a farewell gathering at the restaurant.
I stopped by a couple of days later and chatted with Joanne Albertson, current owner of the Cornerhouse Restaurant.
Remember the people
The building helps us remember, but it’s not about the building so much as it is about the people.
Throughout the years, hundreds of customers have passed on.
Albertson said that each time it was like losing a family member.
I was very happy she let her son-in-law, Howie Reynolds, and employee Brandon give me a tour of the basement.
It is unfinished with a beach sand floor.
It was delightful to see the construction and the cavernous remains.
The original boiler silently sits in a corner.
I am one whose earliest and fondest memories are of places.
Seeing some places again brings back happy memories.
Sometimes, people experience a flood of memories.
Losing a place where there were so many good memories can be like saying a final goodbye to a good old friend.
Our old buildings are leftovers from the people who previously inhabited Port Angeles.
You might call them urban reminders of our past.
They can also arouse curiosity about its past and its part in our community’s collective history.
I hope old buildings will also arouse your curiosity, motivating some of you to discover a place’s forgotten past.
If you become so motivated, the North Olympic History Center’s Research Library can help you.
Son of Caroline Lee
Davis W. Morse Jr. was the third child of Caroline Lee (whom I highlighted in my July 7 column, “Marking the life of an area mother”).
Morse was a businessman and an entrepreneur. He owned a general store and a dock, and he was the city’s first treasurer.
He also rented out rooms above his general store.
In 1913, the buildings downtown were wood framed and fire was always a concern.
The Great San Francisco Fire of 1906 would have still been fresh in people’s memories.
In an 1890 rental agreement, Morse wrote that the tenant must “take every precaution in their power against fire and shall cause a sheet of zinc to be under each and every stove they may place in said rooms and all lamps used by said parties of the second part in said rooms to be fireproof lamps.”
Concrete and brick were starting to become a staple of commercial construction to reduce the risk of fire.
Morse decided to expand his business enterprise and build it out of concrete. It would be the first reinforced concrete building in Port Angeles.
The architect and contractor was G.A. Knox, who was confident the new building would be completed in 90 days.
Looking at it today you can see that 90 days was quite a feat.
Even in 1913 the old gave way to the new.
To make room for his new building, the oldest building in 1913 Port Angeles was torn down.
The older building was erected during Civil War times around 1863. I’m sure there were some who had a hard time saying goodbye to that 50-year-old building.
The Morse Block was constructed in 1913, one year before the downtown re-grade project which raised the level of the downtown area.
Morse planned it that way so his new building would have a solid foundation and the new second floor would be at street level.
It was rightly stated that “Everything will be up to date and first class in every particular, and the building a lasting monument to the structural ability of its designer and builder, as well as to the public enterprise of its owner, D. W. Morse.”
In 1913, Condon electric lights, hot and cold running water, and central steam heating were up to date and first class.
The building has lasted for 106 years.
The foundation was excavated down to a solid beach gravel formation. The foundation is four-feet wide at its base.
It was built in batterform sloping up to an 18-inch wall for the first story, a 14-inch wall for the second story and a 12-inch wall for the third story.
Seven tons of half-inch twisted steel reinforcing went into the walls and foundation.
A galvanized cornice displaying Morse’s name crowned the top.
A flag pole was also installed to complete the top.
The building was heated with steam by that old boiler that’s still in the basement.
This building has housed many businesses throughout the years.
The third floor was originally rented as office spaces.
After World War I, the upper floors were converted into hotel rooms and were named the Pershing Hotel after the famous Army general, John J. Pershing.
It was later named the Downtown Hotel.
The first floor has housed The Leader Department Store, and Piggly Wiggly and Tradewell grocery stores.
It appears that sometime in the 1950s the first floor became a restaurant.
It was Rolf’s Restaurant and lastly the Cornerhouse Restaurant.
All the facts about its design, construction and occupants are very interesting both to research and ponder. But what is important to us is not its design but the place it holds in our collective memories.
It is the end of something old. But it is the start of something new.
Think of it as an end that is bringing forth another beginning.
Do you have some place that always reminds you of your past?
Have you pondered the history behind that place?
Maybe it is time to take a deeper look. You will not be disappointed.
You can have one last chance to view this historic building.
Soroptimist International of Port Angeles Jet Set is hosting a final tour of the Downtown Hotel on Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
This will be the last opportunity to take a look around this great old building.
Admission will be by donation for the group’s local scholarship fund.
Join them Tuesday and say goodbye to our old friend.
John McNutt is a descendant of Clallam County pioneers and president of the North Olympic History Center Board of Directors. He can be reached at woodrow [email protected].